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The Campaign to Stop Junk Email

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The Campaign to Stop Junk Email
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It's irritating. It's rude. It's stupid. In short, it's a Really Bad Idea.
Let's put an end to Junk Email right now.

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Lately I have been getting more and more unsolicited commercial email ("Junk email," also called "spam"). And, frankly, I'm damn sick of it.

This site is directed primarily at the victims of junk email, which generally means recipients, although junk emailers certainly cause systems operators and others big headaches, as well. Our goal is to eliminate all junk email.

To accomplish this goal, we will attempt to teach victims and potential victims (that's everyone with an email address) the most effective methods of prevention and retribution. We also hope to get current and potential junk emailers to see the error of their ways by making them see it from the victim's point of view, and getting them to understand why postage-due marketing isn't very effective.

Open Letter

The tips and tactics found on this site will (and have) gotten individual spammers kicked off the Internet, and will help reduce the amount of spam you receive, but ultimately these tactics are treating the symptom instead of the disease. After more than five years of battling junk email, it has become obvious to me that the problem is not going to be solved without some sort of legislative regulation.

I have been very hesitant to actually advocate this, however, because I fear that the US government tends to over-regulate things it doesn't understand (note that I was a plaintiff in the ultimately successful lawsuit against the Communications Decency Amendment).

Big ISPs like AOL have successfully sued spammers for tresspass and theft of service under current laws, but the level of lawyer power necessary to do that isn't available to the average junk email victim. We need a real legal tool to force junk emailers to stop their tresspass in our inboxes. Such a tool has been available to prevent the cost-shifting associated with junk faxes, and has worked well.

Current situation: Unnacceptable

The junk email situation is rapidly becoming unmanageable, and threatens to destroy email as a useful means of communication. The sheer volume junk email has exploded, according to our own incoming spam stream and other monitoring sites on the Internet. According to a recent European Union study, junk email costs all of us some 9.4 billion (US) dollars per year, and many major ISPs say that spam adds 20% of the cost of their service. We are being forced to subsidize spammers.

This is unacceptable.

Time to try something else

Despite what junk-email apologists might try to tell you, junk email is not an issue of free speech, it is a property rights issue. ISPs and individuals pay for and own their own equipment and email boxes, and they have every right to decide what traffic they are going to carry. You pay for and own your car, your home, and your fax machine, and no one has the right to force you to carry and display advertising on that property. Your email in-box is no different.

People who want no restrictions on spamming, like the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), decry any restriction as unneeded government regulation, and say that the industry should regulate itself. Well, I don't have to rely on any other industry to "self-regulate" their use of my private property without my permission. I see any reason to start now.

In any case, we've spent 5 years waiting for the marketing industry to regulate itself, and our inboxes are drowning in more spam than ever. "Self-regulation" on the part of the marketing industry has been a spectacular failure.

It's time to try something else.

Legislative proposal

The Campaign to Stop Junk Email proposes simply extended the protection of the current law banning unsolicited commercial fax (the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. § 227,) to also cover unsolicited commercial email. Under such a ban individuals would still be free to solicit advertisements (an opt-in system), so one could request commercial solicitations if one prefers. A critical feature of this approach is the private right of action, which allows individuals to sue violators for US$500 per violation, plus damages up to $1,500. This gives victims a real tool to force junk emailers to stop their tresspass.

Current legislation: Insufficient

Unfortunately, junk email legislation currently being considered recently had this individual right of action removed while in committee by allies of the DMA. Under the current proposed legislation, you would have to convince a state attorney general to sue the spammer on your behalf.

In addition, the proposed legislation now has a "one bite at the apple" approach, under which spammers would get to legally send you one message, after which you could opt-out.

We do not support any legislation that legitimizes "remove" requests (opt-out). That is an unworkable solution that would only make the junk email problem worse.

Here's why: There are 22 million small businesses in the United States, according to the Small Business Administration. To understand why this "opt-out" approach is A Bad Idea, imagine that each year, merely 1% of those businesses decided to send you just one of those introductory spams. On average, you'd have to sort 675 junk email messages per day from your legitimate mail (and reply to them, asking to be removed in order to avoid more)1.

This is insufficient protection.


I want the ability to say no to trespass in my mailbox, and the legal ability to force spammers to listen when I say no. I want the same legal tools available that I have when pretecting my other property from tresspass and abuse.

Note that the $500 fine provision of the TCPA have nearly eliminated unsolicited commercial fax. What is so hard about applying the same law to unsolicited commercial email?


Here's the harsh reality: Major campaign contributors like the DMA get what they want from legislators. They bought them seat, they own them. face it: the legislators are always going to do what their biggest contributors want, if at all possible. If you don't believe me, just look at the history of the state and federal legislation so far: every time a potent anti-spam bill comes up, it is eviscerated in committee by allies of the marketing industry after their lobbying, just a surely as if it went down a dark alley with Jack the Ripper.

The only way to counteract that sort of powerful influence is to make it so publicly embarrassing to do what the DMA wants that the legislators can't risk doing it. We need high-profile public figures and widely-redognized technical gurus to accomplish this goal. Someone like a Bill Gates, Scott McNealy, Steve Jobs, or Larry Elison.

In the meantime, I urge you to contact your Representatives in Congress and your Senator. Tell them you want real relief from this flood of junk email, and that what has been proposed is a cure worse than the disease.

The record of reading email is shamefully spotty, so use paper snail-mail for maximum impact. I also recommend visiting CAUCE, who organizes political preassure to ban junk email. We all need to get behind this effort to protect our in-boxes from the scourge of junk email, because you can bet your head that powerful commercial interests continue lobbying hard to defeat us.

—John C. Rivard, 13 June 2001, Detroit, Michgan



On This Page

  • Action items Time-critical items you can take action on
  • News from the Front Media reports on the Junk Email battle
  • Why Junk Email is A Bad Thing
  • How you can help join the fight
  • Siblings-in-Arms Links reciprocal anti-junk email sites
  • Sub-Pages

    Dealing With Junk Email (A Victim's Primer)

    What you should do (and not do) when you have been victimized by a junk emailer.
  • What Not To Do Stuff that doesn't work
  • What to do effective techniques, including how to trace junk email back to its source
  • Stay Calm (take a deep breath...)
  • Stay Mad (don't get discouraged)
  • Ready... Gather info, how to identify the sender and who gives them Internet access
  • Aim... Who to complain to, abuse addresses, online services
  • Fire! What to say and how to say it, effective complaining, leveraging illegal scam messages, phone calls, faxes.
  • Preventing Junk Email

    How to minimize the amount of junk email you receive, and discourage people from sending you junk email.
  • Do-Not-Mail Lists Do they work?
  • America Online has some nice blocking features
  • Automated Mailing List Precautions LISTSERV, Majordomo, ListProc, etc.
  • Usenet Precautions Biggest source of junk email addresses
  • The World-Wide Web
  • Browsing
  • Publishing
  • "Anonymous" FTP
  • Understanding Junk Email

    Further information to help you understand junk email and how it (doesn't) work
  • The Junk Email FAQ Frequently-Asked Questions and answers about junk email
  • How We Should Think About Junk Email Philosophies of (un)acceptability
  • How It's Done Know Your Enemy.
  • Methods of Address Collection
  • Auto-Mailers
  • Chain Letters and Ponzi (Pyramid) Schemes
  • Do-Not-Mail Lists and why they don't work
  • Big Net Companies and their Sometimes Unhelpful Attitudes
  • Other Resources Links to other anti-junk email sites and related materials

  • Information for Businesses

  • Why You Shouldn't Advertise by Email Guidance for current and potential Internet marketers
  • What ISPs Can Do Advice for Internet Service Providers

  • Action Items

    • See Tigerden's excellent round-up of Existing and Emerging Laws on Junk E-mail and take some political action on them, before it's too late! Write your legislators and governors on paper.
    • According to Wired News article, New Jersey Representative Chris Smith has introduced the The Netizens Protection Act of 1997 (H.R. 1748), a Federal anti-junk email bill in the US Congress that will outlaw junk email outright. It will attempt to amend the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which outlawed junk faxes, by adding email provisions. Write your Representative and tell them you support this effort! You can check to see if your rep is wired enough to have a Web page. Snail-mail letters are probably given more consideration. [added 22 May 1997]
    • The Unsolicited Commercial Email Choice Act of 1997 (S. 771) has been introduced in the US Senate by Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski. Full text of the bill and an introductory summary (read on the floor of the Senate) are available online. This bill would not completely ban junk email, but it would require junk email to be labeled ("Advertisement" as the first word of the Subject) for blocking and filtration and mandate honoring of remove requests, with penalties up to $11,000 for violations. [added 22 May 1997]
    • The New York State Assembly is considering legislation to ban junk email. There is online information available about the bills, Assembly bill A06805 and Senate bill S03524. Both versions have been referred to the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection. New York State residents should contact their legislators to offer their support. [added 11 April 1997]
    • Nevadans, call or write your legislators (especially those on the judiciary committee): They are considering a bill to ban junk email! See February 27, 1997 AP article "Nevada may ban e-mail advertisements" [added 27 February 1997]
    • GVU's WWW Survey The premier Web survey. This year, it includes several questions about junk email and internet marketing. Survey closes November 10! [added 4 November 1996]
    • Survey about Junk Email Register your opinion! [item added 29 October 1996]

    News from the Front

    Why Junk Email is A Bad Thing

    Junk email is bad because:
    • The recipient of the advertising is forced to pay the cost of the message. People pay for an email mailbox for various reasons, but not because they want to receive advertising. It costs the recipient real money in terms of extra connect-time charges, phone time charges, disk space, and lowered bandwidth. This is similar to the cost-shifting incurred with unsolicited faxed advertisements, which were made illegal in the US for that very reason.
    • It costs real money. Junk email wastes recipient's valuable time, because they have to spend extra time to download the unwanted messages, and then to wade through the junk email in order to get to the email they actually want. This costs real money in terms of productive time wasted sorting, identifying, and discarding unwanted junk email.
    • Junk email clogs up people's email boxes, mingling with and sometimes even preventing receipt of legitimate email. As more people conduct more business over the Net, this type of disruption can cost even more money.
    • It may cause employers to pull employee internet email access, because they don't want to pay money for their employees to receive advertisements, nor for the lost productivity of their employees wasting (employer-paid) time identifying and discarding junk email. This lessens diversity of the community and hurts the Internet as a whole, and hurts the advancement of the Internet as a medium for commerce.
    • It is contrary to the helpful and personal culture of the Internet The reason the Internet and interactive communication in general has become so popular is because of the personal one-to-one interaction possible with this technology. People from all over the world have helped each other with problems ranging from the technical to the intensely personal. Impersonal mass-emailings are the antithesis of the an Internet community.
    • It is inappropriate and contrary to the interactive nature of the Internet medium. Junk email is barely interactive at best, and is often not interactive at all, because the sender forged a fake return address to avoid retribution. It is sender-oriented push advertising, not an interactive, recipient-centered pull of information. Junk email is based on outdated advertising model.
    • It discourages people from participating in the Internet The saddest thing of all about junk email is that it subtly destroys the things that made the Internet so attractive to people in the first place.

      People are already withdrawing from participating in Usenet, because junk emailers collect most of their addresses from Usenet. This harms everyone who has benefited from the advice and emotional support other people have provided through Usenet. People who gave the most back to the Internet, by posting the most responses to Usenet questions, are the most likely to be abused by junk email. People who do still participate are forced to provide false addresses, making direct communication difficult or impossible.

      For the same reason, some people are not putting their email addresses on their Web pages anymore, making it harder to communicate feedback and opinion. In this way, junk email stifles communication, making the Web more like television: a one-way medium.

      People are also attempting to get their email addresses out of publicly-available directories due to junk email, just like people unlist their telephone numbers to avoid telemarketing calls. Friends who have lost contact cannot reestablish communication by email.

    The Growing Problem

    Why Junk Email Exists

    If reports on the Net and my own mailbox are any indication, junk email is increasing dramatically. The reason it is growing in popularity among advertisers seems to be combination of

    1. A growing mainstream awareness of the Internet (note that I said "awareness," not "understanding"),
    2. The popular media picture of the Net as "hip" and the Next Big Marketplace, and
    3. The fact that junk email is unbelievably inexpensive, even compared to the incredible bargain of junk snail mail. (Of course, part of the cheapness for the sender is due the fact that the costs have been shifted to the recipients, who are actually unwillingly paying to receive the advertisement.)

    The only effective strategy to combat junk email, therefore, is to lessen or mitigate these three factors.

    The first factor is only going to get worse, and the only way to improve it is to increase understanding along with the inevitable increase in awareness. To this end, we should all try to correct any misperceptions about the function or culture of the Net that we see in the media, via letters to the editor, open debate, etc.

    The second factor, the trendiness of the Net as a commercial medium, is probably hardest to mitigate. But it will also probably fade on its own over the next couple of years, as more people get on the Net and the novelty wears off. The Future of Net commerce is beyond the scope of this document, but suffice it to say that the Net will soon be as ubiquitous as the telephone, and we don't really distinguish "telephone commerce" from other types. It's just another method of conducting business.

    The third factor, the inexpensiveness of junk email, is where we can have the most effect. Until the cost burden of junk email can be shifted back to the advertisers, junk email will flourish.

    Adding cost to the advertiser's end of the equation must be our primary focus.

    How You Can Help

    First of all, if you have any ideas to improve this page and/or help deal with junk email, by all means send them in.

    Secondly, don't let junk email go unpunished. If you just delete it and don't complain, your silence indicates acceptance. The only way to stop junk email is to change the situation so that it is no longer worthwhile to send junk email. To accomplish this, you must take action.

    Thirdly, make your voice heard via the Action Items

    Finally, feel free to copy the icons below for use on your own Web pages. I'd appreciate an acknowledgement with a link back to this page, and an email letting me know you used a logo and where. Other than that, I currently have no other restrictions on their Internet use because I want the Stop Junk Email message disseminated as widely as possible. However, I still retain the copyright on these images, and I reserve the legal right to change this usage policy in the future if I feel it is being abused--for example, if a blatant junk emailer used a logo on their site in an effort to disguise their true intentions. If you want to use these logos in media other than the Web (including but not limited to print, television, CD-ROM, etc.) you need to get my permission first.

    Static Versions

    small static No Junk Email logo
    NoJunkEmailStatSmall.gif (GIF format, 90 by 72 pixels, about 12K)

    static No Junk Email logo
    NoJunkEmailStat.gif (GIF format, 250 by 200 pixels, about 18K)

    Dancing Baloney Versions

    small animated No Junk Email logo
    NoJunkEmailSmall.gif (Animated GIF format, loops forever, 90 by 72 pixels, about 17K)

    animated No Junk Email logo
    NoJunkEmail.gif (Animated GIF format, two loops, 250 by 200 pixels, about 55K)

    Again, I would appreciate it if you made these graphics hot links back to this page, something like:

    <A HREF="http://www.jcrdesign.com/junkemail.html">
    <IMG SRC="NoJunkEmailSmall.gif" ALT="Stop Junk Email Logo"
    WIDTH="90" HEIGHT="72"> Stop Junk Email Now</A>


    Below are sites I am aware of which have linked to the Campaign to Stop Junk Email home page, and/or are displaying the "No Junk Email" badge of honor. If I missed your site, let me know and I will add it. I encourage free use of the "No Junk Email" logo on the Web as long as you provide credit via a link back to this page (see terms above--I do still retain the copyright). I assume that a site displaying the logo agrees with what they find here, but this does not necessarily mean that I agree with (or am even aware of) all opinions found at these sites. See legal disclaimers.


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    Last Updated:
    Saturday, September 15, 2001
    at 12:03:20 PM by JCR

    Copyright ©2001 John C. Rivard.
    All Rights Reserved.
    This page is subject to these Terms of Use

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